Just inside the entrance to Jöelle Tuerlinckx’s exhibition ‘WOR(L)D(K) IN PROGRESS?’, in place of a gallery attendant, sat a headless dummy. What followed constituted another body of sorts: a corpus of work created over the past 20 years. Time and space, and the relationship between the two, are the key concerns of Tuerlinckx’s practice, and here they informed a challenging, richly rewarding approach to presenting a retrospective.
‘WOR(L)D(K) IN PROGRESS?’ was the third in a series of evolving exhibitions which began at WIELS, Brussels, and moved to Haus der Kunst, Munich, before coming to Arnolfini. Early works commingled with new pieces and reworked materials from previous installations, all arranged by the artist in response to each location. No titles or dates were provided, so rather than tracing a chronological development, the presentation formed an atemporal whole that encapsulated the Belgian artist’s distinctive approach to seeing, drawing, collecting and display. The sheer volume of works – more than 1,500 in total – could have been overwhelming had they not been unified by the methodology outlined in a lexicon compiled specifically for the trio of exhibitions.
The same lines, shapes and colours appeared again and again throughout the installation, linking the individual elements and establishing the artist’s formal vocabulary. For example, the circle that features in a drawing of a goldfish from the artist’s childhood, is echoed in small typed pages
of O’s and 0’s, and in diagrams of planets. Lines marked on the floor with tape were repeated in elastic, strings and strips of wood, and then expanded into squares and cubes. These were not purely abstract forms; they reconsidered the apparatus of institutional presentation – labels, frames, vitrines – as well as the specifics of Tuerlinckx’s own exhibition history, many of the materials having been repurposed from earlier shows, such as the large discs cut from their temporary walls.
To this end, ‘WOR(L)D(K) IN PROGRESS?’ also invoked multiple. The ground-floor gallery was an arena of both process and exhibition: papered in a fluorescent orange reproduction of the brick walls of Tuerlinckx’s Brussels studio, it was hung salon-style with a variety of found materials, such as pages from geology textbooks and ad hoc visual experiments. Rocks were labelled with the city and year of their collection and connected by strips of tape, collapsing a lifetime’s worth of travelling into single points. Motifs strategically repeated throughout the building – a dot pattern on pillars, a ladder propped against the wall – served to subtly intervene in visitors’ experience of the space. In the second-floor galleries, multiple frames were grouped in grids like specimens, each pairing a newspaper photograph with a drawing made by the artist. These simple juxtapositions pointed to Tuerlinckx’s interest in modes of visual communication, the interplay between the familiar, widely circulated images and more intimate abstract marks affecting how each was read. Perception was also at stake in references to systems of measurement, such as diagrams of standardized paper formats, and in a three-sided structure through the peepholes of which visitors were invited to take specific views of the otherwise open-ended installation. An audio piece featuring Arnolfini staff reading from Tuerlinckx’s lexicon added another layer of language to the scrawled statements and snippets of found text punctuating the spaces.
There was a real pleasure in exploring the many facets of Tuerlinckx’s words and works, and – as the exhibition title suggested – the worlds they create. What might have been most compelling, however, was the way room was left for what is yet to come. While the resource area featured a tea-aged ‘archive’ of brown, wrinkled ephemera from this series of exhibitions, concretely pulling the future back into the present, it was the seemingly empty spaces that contained the seeds of potential creations. A blank expanse of floor delineated by a square of cryptic phrases (such as ‘ALL THAT YOU SEE HERE–THERE DOESN’T EXIST’) could be a holding pen for as-yet-immaterial works, while a small room on the top floor was covered in numbered sheets of blank paper which seemed likely to turn up next time in another format. In this sense,‘WOR(L)D(K) IN PROGRESS?’ was as much a pro-spective as a retrospective of Tuerlinckx’s career, collating and then setting forth the conditions for the future.